Social Media

Qardio: Drinking The Social/Cloud Kool-Aid

A blood pressure gauge — a sphygmomanometer — has been pretty well understood since the late 1800s. It consists of a cuff to squeeze the arm, sensors to read the pulses, and a dial/read-out to display the results.

This Christmas, I got my Mom a “QardioArm” — a BP gauge updated for the modern smartphone era. It has all the requisite parts, with the main distinction that the display is now an app on the tablet/phone. And one other critical requirement that apparently medical professionals have been desperately lacking for centuries: the “cloud”. (continue reading…)


Does A Facebook “Like” Equal “Friend”?

I’ve stated in the past that I am very careful who I be-“friend” on Facebook. No professional contacts, no marginal ‘acquaintances’ – just genuine friends. Facebook security problems of the past have scared the heck out of me, so I have everything locked down to friends-only.

“Likes”, on the other hand, are limitless in my mind. I’ll gladly “Like” a web site, a fan page, or a group with no qualms whatsoever. And why not? If I “Like” the Swedish Bikini Mud Wrestling team, why should I be embarrased if only my closest friends know this rather than strangers and acquaintances on the periphery? (My friends will forgive me; a potential employer, maybe not so much.)

But does Facebook consider “friends” and “likes” to be equivalent? The reason I wonder, worriedly, is because I found my photo stream posted on the “Photos From Our Members” sidebar of one of the groups that I previously “liked”. Just because I “like” a group in no way means that I want to be-“friend” every one of that group’s members or expose my personal info to them. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Facebook treats “friends” and “likes” very similarly. Can group members and fan pages see my photos? My wall? My personal profile? That is so not cool.

As a programmer, I can concede that the mechanics behind “friend” and “like” are probably very similar and there may be considerable code re-use between those two actions. But the permissions model between the object types should be decidedly different. I’m not convinced that they are. I am searching for confirmation one way or the other…

Twitter Has A Lot Of Growing Up To Do

In the early 80s, I thought the two greatest things in the world were email and USENET. I was totally addicted. Carrying on conversations with far-away people without the worry of telephone or time zone, or sharing a passion with fellow rec.sports.this or comp.sys.that afficianados was refreshingly liberating, especially for a quiet guy that was barely audible in public. I spent countless hours in the computer labs, and when I found out that I could dial into the school network from my own home using just a $100 Televideo tty with modem, it was truly “game on”.

As a student, I had limited access to the inner-workings of the system and I was only a ‘consumer’ of the information stream. And a glorious stream it was. But by the late 80s, I had the fortune of seeing the belly of the beast. Now I was an admin, and I could see the way the network worked, the transmission between hosts, the dance of the cron jobs to keep everything in balance. When most others were mesmerized by shared commercial email services like Compuserve and Prodigy, I had a *personal* .UUCP node on my Mac IIfx and my own USENET feed of selected newsgroups. We were a self-policing organism. AND IT WAS ALL FREE!

But money changes everything, and like absolute power, corrupts absolutely. Commerce trolls had made their way onto USENET, and it was no cost to them to ply their wares in open forums. They had a ready-made audience of sitting ducks, and all they needed to do was drop their spam bomb and move on to the next newsgroup. Now the beautiful synchrony of USENET propagation was interrupted by the staccato of “cancel” messages that back-propagated to kill the discordant posts. In the end, it became more trouble than it was worth. The bang-for-buck was no longer there for me, and it faded into distant memory as the next open frontier – WWW – became my new passion.

My love for email still lives on, but management of it too is more burdensome than it was back in those idyllic days. First came the unwanted spam for “viagra”. Then simple keyword filtering stopped being effective when “V1@gra” entered the scene. Then “V   I   A   G   R   A”. Then embedded image spam. And so on. Whitelists, blacklists, procmail, DNSRBL, Bayesian filtering, spam firewalls. It’s actually quite a battle, though the bang-for-buck is still there.

So, as you’ve weathered my typical long story, what is my point? Twitter is where email and USENET were 20 years ago. Isn’t it wonderful that we can establish relationships with people we may not otherwise encounter, share passions, let links go viral, proclaim “what’s happening now”, and converse (albeit in a 140-character unthreaded style)? I’m very “greatest thing since sliced bread” excited about things like Twitter and Flipboard right now. But it’s all too eerily familiar…

And like the Sentinels from The Matrix, “here they come”. The spambots that search the entire twitterverse for your mention of “solar” so they can hit you with a renewable energy resources tweet. The ones who offer the best way to stop smoking if you mention anything even remotely relevant. Or the ones who simply suggest you buy a certain TV because you mentioned, well, nothing relevant at all.

Twitter is self-policing like USENET and email were in those early days. You can block a user and/or report them for spam, at which point you assume that the Twitter gods will banish them from the kingdom. But it is trivial to start a new account and begin spamming all over again. Eventually the cacophony is going to be overwhelming, or the self-policing will become too burdensome. Either could be the death-knell for Twitter. If Twitter had the same RBLs and Bayesian filters and other tools that evolved for email de-spamification, I might be inclined to use them. But even the need for those could be signaling the beginning of the end.

I think Twitter is in its naive era, where everything is good and nothing can corrupt. They seem to be worried more about their 3rd-party clients and API usability, and less about the people that will be (ab)using them. It’s well-known enough (compared to something like Orkut) to elevate itself into everyday culture, but not yet under the weight of its own gravity like Facebook. Usage will undoubtedly continue to increase, probably exponentially thanks to things like iOS5 deep integration bringing it rapidly to the fore. And thus Twitter needs to grow out of its naivete quickly.

There’s that old line from superhero movies, “if only he’d have used his power for good instead of evil”, and there is potential to do some major Twitter evil out there. What we’ve seen to date has barely scratched the surface. Many people are intent on working within the boundaries of the system for their own commercial best interests, and many more still have no qualms about abusing. (Let’s hope it doesn’t get as bad as email, where 78% of all messages are spam.)

So if Twitter is listening, please: let’s set those boundaries firmly and build in processes that will weed out the offenders. Twitter needs to take a much more proactive and hard-line role in preventing tweet spam from overtaking the community.

Maximizing Your LinkedIn Connectedness

LinkedIn boasts millions of members. But dig deeper and you may notice that many of the profiles are old and abandoned. Beyond a general apathy/disillusionment over the LinkedIn social media experience, I believe many of these orphaned accounts are due to the user leaving an employer and thus losing access to the email account that they subscribed under. Or perhaps registering using their personal email address, but later changing ISPs…

Many people must not be aware of the fact that LinkedIn supports multiple email addresses associated with one account. I have had several friends.. er um, sorry.. “connections” that re-invited me to connect because they started a brand new LinkedIn profile for their job at a new company. Ouch. It would seem painful to me to invest time building a network, only to lose it because you no longer had access to your originally-registered email.

Thankfully, LinkedIn allows you to register multiple email addresses. If you do so while you still have access to them – they require an acknowledgement of a confirmation email – you can actually register as many addresses as you may be known by. Both professionally and personally.

Go to Settings > Account > Add & change email address. Here you can kick off the confirmation process for any address, delete an abandoned email, or swap your ‘primary’ from one to another.

There’s an additional advantage to registering multiple addresses: when you sign up for LinkedIn discussion groups, you can have the alerts/announcements be redirected to any of your confirmed addresses (not just the primary). And unlike, say, a mailing list, you can change them without involving lots of approvals or change of address submissions. Just select from the drop-down on the group’s member profile. So for instance, you could redirect alumni group emails to your Gmail, but business groups to your work address. A very handy feature.

My advice: take the time to register your various email addresses ahead of time. You never know where life takes you. Your employment situation may change or you could move from a Cox service area to Time-Warner. I guarantee that what address you registered with on LinkedIn will probably be the last thing on your mind at the time, but you’ll be glad you were prepared.

PS: Facebook also supports a similar multiple-address feature. Though I don’t think Facebook has the same abandonment issues that LinkedIn does…

Why Everyone Needs To Know About Twitter

With a billion tweets per week, there’s no question that Twitter has become a popular social medium. But while not every person is a Twitter user, it is important that everyone at least know what Twitter is.

I’m starting to see malware-bearing spam that preys on the popularity of Twitter, though anyone even remotely familiar with Twitter would never be fooled because it displays a complete ignorance about how the twittersphere operates. The latest is a message from Twitter Support indicating that there are a number of “unreaded messages” awaiting review.

There are other dead giveaways to this initial spam vector, but social engineering techniques will undoubtedly improve over time. The fundamental issue is that even a non-user should be taught that Twitter is not a messaging system in the traditional email sense, so as to not get fooled by the spam into clicking to see these “unreaded” messages.

Make sure your non-Twitter friends and family “faworites” know the basics.

Tumblr vs Posterous vs …

“Microblogging” is a way to broadcast small elements of content within a web or social media context. Supporting simple text and link sharing, status updates in Facebook and LinkedIn are at the basic end of the microblogging spectrum. Taking more of a multimedia approach, services such as Tumblr and Posterous add support for longer texts that can also include images, files, music, and video.

Twitter is pure microblogging minimalism, limiting tweets to 140 characters (based on the maximum size of an SMS message). Twitter’s strict interpretation of “micro” has spurred an entire “twitterverse”, 100MM strong. Part of the fun, or some would say challenge, is keeping updates under the limit. Have more to say? Not a problem. Simply blog it – whether through Posterous, WordPress, or any other [micro]blogging platform – and then tweet an intro with a link to the rest. A very common practice. TweetDeck – a microblogging tool that helps to consolidate Twitter, Facebook, and other social media streams – might have you think otherwise.

TweetDeck announced a new “” service that will support tweets longer than the normal 140 limit. Larger texts will be “blogged” on their web site and then automatically intro’d/linked in a shorter Twitter-compatible tweet. Never mind that, with the proper configuration, most current microblogging platforms already handle the auto-crossposting. Claiming credit for solving a problem that had already been solved long ago, this new service was supposedly in great demand by their application’s users.

Excusing TweetDeck for their hyperbole (and their users for their ignorance), does introduce a new player to the microblogosphere. They promise that this is just the start of something bigger – presumably adding multimedia support. No longer just an application, TweetDeck/ is now a blog hosting platform. Will remain a closed system only for users of the paid-for apps? Time will tell. But the numerous “Posterous is better/worse than Tumblr” debates may have an additional contender, and will likely require a re-assessment of all the comparisons.

Can LinkedIn Make The Grade?

LinkedIn wants to be an integral piece of your social network. With 70MM users, and a planned IPO, it hopes it can be considered at the same level as Facebook or Twitter. But it seems to me that they have a lot of work to do.

In the past week, the service has been hit with numerous outages – some planned, some not. But while the planned downtime is forewarned via banner messages on the site, the un-intentional have gone un-reported, un-acknowledged, and un-explained. Worse yet, few in my small circle even noticed. This bipartisan disinterest has led some people to suggest that the world would not even notice if LinkedIn were to disappear.

The LinkedIn blog site has remained up throughout any downtime, but the posts are not providing explanations – choosing to announce open-source code contributions and what motivates a “Data Scientist”. Their Twitter feed, meanwhile, mentions absolutely nothing about uptime.

Instead, people are left to speculate and tweet on their own. Some have suggested that the outages are related to their new LA Data Center brought online in Dec. However, I have noticed some minor, though architecturally significant, features on the home page UI this week – such as a new-items count added to the title bar – and wonder if maybe the new codebase has proven to be less than bug-free.

Regardless, the mere fact that we have to speculate at all concerns me. If this were Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, or any of the popular online services, they would have kept users informed via out-of-band channels and provided a deeply technical post-mortem in the aftermath. For a social site that is geared for “professionals”, LinkedIn is being neither social nor professional. Instead, they are showing that they have a lot to learn about Customer Service.

Flipboard Releases New Update

Very happy to see that Flipboard released v1.0.2 on Thurs. It answers all my earlier criticisms except for the lack of RSS support:

  • No more duplicate articles thanks to an improved layout algorithm.
  • More panels – now up to 21.
  • Auto-refresh – no need to exit/restart to pick up new content.

Plus a new feature that shows a web page snapshot (like IE and Chrome thumbnails) when page content/context is not otherwise available.

The best just got better.

Flipboard: A Better Twitter (app) Than Twitter

I did not get much sleep last night. I spent the wee morning hours playing with Flipboard, fully engrossed until 5am. I don’t get that easily sucked in when sleep is beckoning, which should go to show how much I believe this: Flipboard is frakking awesome! Flipboard is the reason the iPad was made. And if you are a Twitter fan in particular, it is reason enough to go run out and buy an iPad right this second.
(continue reading…)

Radio Liberty

In a MainStreet article, Seth Fiegerman suggests that Livio’s “Car Internet Radio” iPhone app is a giant-killer, primed to topple Satellite Radio. Hmmmm. Satellite Radio can be seen as valuable in two ways. For many, the programming on the “radio” is the key. The content is the lure, with premium syndication from Howard Stern, ESPN, NFL, etc that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. For these people, there really is no Satellite “killer app”. Given that a lot of this material is unavailable elsewhere, AM/FM, Internet Radio, or any other form of vanilla programming has no appeal.

The other viewpoint puts the emphasis on the “Satellite” instead – a non-location-specific transmission medium that can allow consistent access from anywhere while mobile. With this viewpoint, a cellular “Internet radio” – which uses the Internet as the distribution medium to access radio stations in the conventional sense – could indeed be a worthy competitor to Sirius/XM (provided that there was adequate data coverage in all visited areas). These “radio” stations may be streaming versions of a bonafide over-the-air (OTA) station, or an Internet agglomeration of custom programming available only as online content. (continue reading…)

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